Lilly Reich – Though the modernist designer’s career began in textile and fashion design – a vocation deemed appropriate and suitable for a woman of the time, Lilly Reich, born in Berlin in 1885, developed a fascination with contrasting textures and innovative use of fabrics. No doubt, the interest became evident in her later career as a modern furniture designer, and eventually in her work at the Bauhaus School of Architecture and Design where she taught interior design.
A career in contemporary furniture design continued to be fostered in Vienna, where she moved at age 23 to work in the studio of Joseph Hoffman, the renowned Mid Century modernist designer (Kubus armchair and sofa); in 1912, she became a member of the Werkbund, a government-sponsored organization for promoting German products and designs. At 29, she opened her own studio and began developing her own reputation, and in 1920, was named the Werkbund’s first female director, where her responsibilities included curating exhibits of German designers, including one at the Museum of Art in Newark, NJ.
At the Werkbund she met architect and designer, Mies Van Der Rohe, where for 13 years, until Mies emigrated to America, they were partners personally and professionally. One of Mies’ most famous designs, the Barcelona Chair (also known as the pavilion chair and the Brno chair), has been credited to Reich. Albert Pheiffer, Vice President of Design and Management at Knoll, and a researcher and lecturer on Reich has observed, “It became more than a coincidence that Mies’s involvement and success in exhibition design began at the time as his personal relationship with Reich” and, “It is interesting to note that Mies did not fully develop any contemporary furniture successfully before or after his collaboration with Reich”.
When Mies assumed the role of Director of the Bauhaus School, Reich joined the faculty, becoming one of the school’s first female teachers. She remained there until the late 1930’s.
Shortly after returning to Germany from a visit to America in 1939, the war broke out. In 1943, her studio was bombed, however, she moved to safety 900 of her own and 3,100 of Mies’ drawings.
From 1943-1945 Reich was drafted into a forced labor organization. Upon her release she tried to revive the Werkbund, though full legal status was not granted until three years after her untimely death in 1947.